Anytime you see a team as prolific as the San Francisco 49ers select an RB in the NFL Draft, you instantly perk up and consider his fantasy football outlook on what is a very favorable landing spot. With an opportunity to see a large amount of volume while contributing early on, what is Trey Sermon’s fantasy outlook in 2021, and should fantasy managers consider him at his current ADP?
Trey Sermon’s fantasy outlook for 2021
Heading into the draft, Sermon was a very interesting prospect. We know the talent was there, but why did he breakout so late?
Initially playing at Oklahoma, Sermon failed to generate any sizeable amount of buzz. If you only looked at stats without context, it’s easy to understand why. In his three seasons at OU, Sermon rushed 339 times for 2,076 yards and 22 touchdowns, adding 36 receptions for 391 yards and 3 touchdowns. It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he would lead the Sooners’ backfield in touches (176). But here is where I think context is needed.
Who was at QB, and what scheme was Sermon in while at OU? They went from Baker Mayfield to Kyler Murray to Jalen Hurts — three of the best college QBs of the last decade. After Sermon led the team in rushing the year prior, Hurts transferred to play for Lincoln Riley and ran 233 times himself. Sermon also tore his LCL late in the 2019 season, causing him to miss four games.
Sermon transferred to Ohio State before the 2020 season
Here is where I feel the narrative around Sermon is incorrect. Many seem just to assume that Master Teague, who is not a great RB, simply beat out Sermon for the starting role. That’s not the case … at all.
For one, while this was not made public at the time or even during the season, Sermon was still dealing with lingering effects of his LCL injury, both physically and mentally. It took time for him to trust his knee again. Also, the utter fiasco that was the Big Ten’s handling of COVID-19 further complicated matters.
Given the condensed offseason, limited contact with players, his injury, and being a transfer player, Ryan Day and the staff felt more comfortable starting the season with a known commodity in Teague. It had nothing to do with talent or “losing the job.” Just look at how the season played out.
Sermon was unstoppable down the stretch
Sermon carried the ball 45 times for 232 yards with no touchdowns and caught 4 passes for 35 yards in the first four games. Now fully trusting his knee, it was in Week 5 that Sermon stole the backfield.
Against Michigan State, he rushed 10 times for 112 yards and a score and never looked back. Last season, Sermon exploded down the stretch with three straight 100-yard rushing games, including a 331-yard performance against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game. When Justin Fields was gutting out a super-hero-like performance against Clemson in the semifinals, Sermon rushed for 193 yards on 31 carries.
We will never know if he could have made it four in a row, as in the National Championship game against Alabama, Sermon was injured on the very first play of the game and was transported to the hospital to have X-rays on his left collarbone/shoulder.
Sermon is a sleeper for 2021 in fantasy football
This is the running back the 49ers drafted at No. 88 overall in Round 3 — a wrecking ball who glides through cuts and has deceptive speed. Sermon does a great job of running up behind his offensive linemen and has the vision to see the hole and attack it. When on the outside, he reads his blocks very well on the perimeter. That is a massive trait to have in an offense that loves wide-zone concepts.
He is not a guy who will outrun the modern perimeter LB or be an integral part of the passing game. That’s not to say he can’t catch, but there is a difference between someone who can catch passes and a pass-catching weapon.
The 49ers were a perfect fit for Sermon. They have Raheem Mostert, a homerun hitter and the fastest player in the NFL, per NextGen Stats. Then, Sermon will act as the power back, who already has a knack for finding the end zone.
San Francisco is a team competing for the NFC West title and has a potent offense that will become more dangerous once Trey Lance is under center. Sermon should be on a shortlist of sleeper candidates, as he is one missed game from Mostert from RB2 status in fantasy.
Kyle Shanahan might very well be the best play-caller in the NFL. Few are better at capitalizing on their players’ skill sets and getting them in advantageous situations. Since 2012, his offenses have finished inside the top 5 four separate times and only once outside the top 13. When you add that the 49ers have averaged 441.5 rush attempts per season, their RB group is valuable to target in fantasy.
The problem is, it’s unlikely Shanahan will ever use a primary back. Since taking over the 49ers, the last RB to receive over 65% of the snaps was Carlos Hyde in 2017 (71%). Since then, Kyle Juszczyk led the way with 63% in 2018, and over the last two seasons, no one crested the 50% mark. Last season, three RBs recorded between 41 and 43%.
A best-case scenario could be for a two-back approach with Mostert and Sermon, but it’s more likely we see a three-headed committee with Wayne Gallman in the mix. The former Giants RB signed a one-year deal after a career-best season filling in for the injured Saquon Barkley. In 2020, Gallman totaled 796 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Add in Lance and potentially 5 designed carries per game, and the chances for an RB to get the ball with any consistency are stretched even thinner. Still, when you factor in Mostert’s injury history — played in 16 games just once and is already dealing with a back injury — Sermon could quickly be the lead back in the committee.
Current projections have Sermon slated for around 150 carries for 615 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2021. Additionally, he could generate 20 receptions for 170 yards and another score.
Trey Sermon’s ADP
According to Sleeper, Sermon is currently the RB32 with an ADP of 87.9 in PPR scoring formats. In superflex leagues, where QBs see an increased value, his ADP is 95.9. Meanwhile, on NFC (a high-stakes fantasy platform), Sermon’s ADP is 75.5 as the RB28. Lastly, his ADP on Fleaflicker is 90 (RB32).
Should you draft Trey Sermon in 2021 for fantasy?
Sermon could be a fantastic value in 2021, especially with Mostert already finding his way on the injury report. After all, he has missed 38 games over his five-year career, which makes the odds of Sermon seeing multiple games as the RB1 considerably high.
Many people seem to be down on him, pointing at his college production. But as I went over, I think that is the wrong way to evaluate his career. While Sermon will not be an RB1 this season, we could see him in the RB2 range multiple times. As an eighth or ninth-round pick, Sermon is a great value that should only increase as the season goes on.